It was a slow start against Trinidad and Tobago in the Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal first leg, but after the U.S. men's national team opened the scoring in the 82nd minute, they were able to roll to a 3-0 victory on Thursday in Austin, Texas. This a a two-legged tie with a trip to the Copa America on the line, so the aggregate is important and after a scoreless first half, it was a cause for concern. It took a while for Ricardo Pepi to open the scoring in the 82nd minute, despite playing with a man advantage, after Noah Powder was sent off for Trinidad and Tobago for picking up his second yellow in the 38th minute, but his goal was followed quickly by Antonee Robinson and Gio Reyna piling on goals of their own to provide the USMNT with a comfortable advantage before heading to Trinidad and Tobago on Monday night.
Pepi has scored five goals from the bench this year for the USMNT as he has become a sparkplug for the USMNT when they need to get into a match. Manager Gregg Berhalter called out the missing precision early on, as the USMNT once again failed to create enough good looks for striker Folarin Balogun during the first half of play, but those adjustments were seen in the second half when Balogun and Pepi played together, not only leading to the opening goal but a flood of scoring after that.
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"It was a really difficult game, really difficult team to break down, very physical team and our guys didn't panic. They just kept going. We didn't lose structure," Berhalter said after the match. "We didn't lose determination to try and get the goals and when they did you see we were able to get going and get three goals which puts us in a very good position to advance."
Berhalter hit the nail on the head. It wasn't pretty, but without Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah due to injury, a youthful USMNT got the job done. Sometimes that's something that can be taken for granted, but it goes a long way to improving depth for knockout tournaments as everyone learned something in this one while qualification to the Copa America and a spot in the Nations League final inches closer.?